Portland’s Loss, Grants Pass’ Gain: Commercial Horse Racing Moves into Grants Pass
On Sunday September 22, on a calm, windless day, eight horses thundered out of the gates at Grants Pass Downs. It was the first race for a new chapter at the race track, as Grants Pass Downs grabbed the mantel as Oregon’s new home for commercial racing in the state.
First out of the gate was a horse named Day Dreamer, followed closely and soon passed by Cartel Rocks, a California-bred and owned horse. For the rest of the race, as the pack curved around the track, those two horses dueled, with Cartel Rocks reaching for the finish line first, little more than a nose’s length ahead.
But beyond the excitement of pounding hooves and winning bets, that late September Sunday was a historic change in horse racing in Oregon, as Grants Pass Downs became the state’s primary and only “commercial racing venue,” replacing the recently shuttered Portland Meadows, which had been the epicenter for horse racing and betting for the previous seven decades.
It is important to understand what “commercial horse racing” means, because yes, there is and already has been horse-racing in Grants Pass—and has been for years. Those races run during the summer months.
But at the end of September, so-called “commercial racing” kicked off at Grants Pass Downs. Earlier this year, the final race was run at Portland Meadows, what had been the state’s largest horse racing venue since 1946.
“Better fields, bigger field, better betting opportunities,” explains Jack McGrail, Executive Director for the Oregon Racing Commission. “Commercial racing” is a legal definition and difference which opens certain allowances. The application was approved for a three-year run to TMB Racing, an organization headed by Travis Boersma, co-founder of Dutch Bros. Coffee. Boersma grew up in Grants Pass and reportedly frequented the track as a kid, later becoming a racehorse owner himself. The expansion of horse racing in Grants Pass is a potential economic boom to the region. Already, the summer races inject $3 million to the local economy.
With bigger and broader allowances for the races, the quality of horses and jockeys tends to cycle upwards, explains McGrail. To accommodate their new status, the new management at Grants Pass Downs has undertaken significant upgrades: 1600 tons of sand raked across the track for a better run, improved railings, bigger barns and state-of-the-art screens for broadcasting the races.
Interestingly, races will run on Sunday and Mondays. McGrail explains that the workday races are less about live audiences in the stands, and more about the simulcast. As casinos and lottery have entered the Oregon betting landscape over the past decades, the magnetism of horse racing has weakened. As such, venues like Portland Meadows—and now Grants Pass Downs—have turned to audiences outside their stadium, and with few other races run on Mondays, they attract betters from coast-to-coast.
1 pm post time, Sun & Mon through November 4, Josephine County Fairgrounds, Grants Pass. $4 admissions, $2 min. bet
Our Editor’s betting advice: While trifectas can provide big payoffs and picking the winning horse is validating, I tend to hedge my bets by placing three small bets on each race: A $2 bet on my favorite horse to “place” (finish top two), and two $2 on longer shots to “show” (placing top three). While it doesn’t make me rich, these bets tend to allow me to come to the track, gamble $20 and be involved with the races all day long. It is my version of not putting all my eggs in one basket.